FILIGREE FROM THE MARITIME SILK ROAD
Jan Veenendaal, Aziatische Kunst en de Nederlandse Smaak/Asian art and Dutch Taste, The Hague Gemeentemuseum, Zwolle:Wanders 2014
Karina H. Corrigan, Jan van Campen and Femke Diercks with Janet C. Blyberg ed. Asia in Amsterdam: The Culture of Luxury in the Golden Age, Rijksmuseum, October 17, 2015-January 17, 2016
The Ambonese Curiosity Cabinet, (D’Amboinsche aritkamer….Georgius Everardus Rumphius, Amsterdam, 1705), Translated, edited, annotated and with an introduction by E.M Beekman, Yale University Press, 1999 (for the plate of Turbo Marmoratus see Book II, Chapter VI, pp. 100/101, Folio 70 A and B)
Karin Leonhard, ‘Shell collecting. On 17th century Conchology, curiosity cabinets and still life paintings,’ from Karl A.E. Enenkel and Paul J. Smith ed. Early modern zoology, The construction of animals in science, literature and the visual arts, Leiden and Boston, 2007, p. 177 et seq
In Amalias’s inventories the words fildegreyn or draadwerk, are rarely used, but after her death they appear, to describe items previously recorded as Indian or Chinese. In addition an item called Indian in one inventory, might become Chinese in another...’in the field of precious metal it was not always easy for the 17th century inventory compiler to see the difference between Chinese and Indian’5. The tentative conclusion drawn is that the descriptive words Chinese and Indian in such 17th century inventories, can sometimes refer to the construction technique i.e. filigree, as well as indicating a generalised area of production, somewhere in The East, not necessarily India or China. In fact it is recognised that much 17th century filigree came to Europe as a result of the private activities of individuals connected to the Dutch United East India company (V.O.C.), whose head-quarters in the East Indies, were at Batavia, site of modern day Jakarta in Indonesia. References to filigree in inventories taken locally in Indonesia are more specific about the area of production. Here expressions such as ‘Manila Work’ or ‘Batavian work’ are sometimes found, but the most common description is ‘West Coast filigree’, or simply ‘West Coast Work’, referring to the West Coast of Sumatra where Padang was the most significant centre of production6. A now much quoted description by the English Orientalist and Secretary of the British Admiralty, William Marsden F.R.S. (1734-1836) in his History of Sumatra in 17847 puts the importance of that large island into perspective. ‘There is no manufacture in that part of the world; and perhaps I might be justified in saying, in any part of the world, that has been more admired and celebrated than the fine gold and silver filigree of Sumatra. This however is strictly speaking, the work of the Malay and not of the original inhabitants…although.. The Chinese also make filagree, mostly of silver…’.
Sumatra has from early times been a central point in the maritime silk-road which connected China and Japan, India, the Middle East and Europe. Marsden also described Sumatra as the '…Emporium of eastern riches, wither the traders of the west resorted with their cargoes to exchange them for the precious merchandise of the Indian archipelago’.8
The predominantly Chinese ornament of the shell and stand would suggest China as the place of manufacture, but the fertility of trade and cross cultural mixing that occurred along the maritime silk road, makes it hard for contemporary scholars to identify for certain, where an item of filigree originates.
For example, while a filigree box in the Rijksmuseum, (Fig.2) which belonged to a daughter and granddaughter of successive governor generals of the V.O.C. might be expected to originate near Batavia, it is not proven to have been made there. The same box was recently included in an exhibition on Chinese export silver where it is said, ‘in terms of patterns…the filigree box mentioned above, in addition to adopting Indian Mughal or floral patterns with central Asian (Islamic) characteristics, the techniques were surprisingly similar to gold filigree work on ornaments made for Chinese nobility….’ 9. The same exhibition included a casket, from the Murwen Tang collection, catalogued ‘as early kangxi (circa 1660)’ which looks similar to caskets catalogued as work from Padang, West Sumatra, in the exhibition, Asian Art and Dutch Taste, (op. cit pp. 122-125).
The same pigmented appliques as are found on the shell and stand now offered, are repeated on a box from a private collection, catalogued as ‘West Sumatra, after a Chinese example’ (Fig.3) (Asian Art…op. cit. illus. 195 and 196). Such a Chinese example would include a box in the Imperial Palace Museum, Beijing10. As far as can be ascertained from photographs, these two boxes look so similar that it is difficult to understand why they should originate from a different source.
The author of Asian Art, makes a clear distinction between West Sumatran filigree and that produced in India and China, the former being composed of ‘curls of thread...generally interspersed with little ovals. The arrangement looks like a tiny plant with two leaves and a flower’, such an arrangement as is found all over the shell and its stand. However this same arrangement of two leaves and a flower and other detail, which suggest a manufacturing association, are also found on an Imperial Chinese filigree silver box and cover, Qing Dynasty, from the Roger Keverne collection, and on a Chinese gold filigree box, from the Qing Court collection and now in the National Palace Museum, Taipei.11
The shell and stand is applied with reserves of a blue composition, scientifically consistent with Lazurite, a mineral associated with Lapis Lazuli as a raw material and ultramarine pigments. In the 17th century Lapis Lazuli was available along the maritime silk road. At the court of the Sultan of Aceh, for example, it was used ‘in the rich caparisons of Iskandar Thani’s elephants’ and in ceremonial court accoutrements. A letter of 1639, from Iskandar Thani (1610-1641) to the Stadtholder of the United Provinces, Frederik Henry, prince of Orange (1584-1647), is illuminated on a Lapis ground.12 In Malacca, following its capture by the Portuguese, Afonso de Albuquerque described the richness he found as having `more gold and blue in Malacca than in the palaces of Sintra'.13 Another of the exotic materials coming from the east, so loved by Western collectors were its shells, which by the end of the 17th century had ‘evolved into a veritable collecting mania’.14 This fascination, was a wide spread phenomenon in which the shell in addition to being a beautiful thing represented contemporary views on art and science. ‘Whorled gastropod shells….an allegory of the rotating universe, one that could be accommodated in a cabinet drawer’, or cabinet of curiosities….15 Despite being widespread, nowhere was the fascination with shells more prevalent than the United Provinces. The art dealer, Edmé François Gersaint, who sold shells as well as paintings from his shop in Paris, which was famously painted by his friend Jean-Antoine Watteau16, recorded after a visit to the Netherlands, that ‘everyone there is curious’ 17(Fig.4). Among the most sort-after shells, was the Turbo Marmoratus. Although not as frequently mounted as the Nautilus with its simpler shape and flat surface more suitable for carving, the Turbo appears in some of the great combinations of shell and silver of the 16th and 17th century. It was also collected as an object in itself. The Dutch shell collector Jan Govertz van der Aar was painted by Henrdrik Goltzius, in 1603, contemporaneous with the founding of the Dutch East India Company (V.O.C.), holding a Turbo Marmoratus as his prize possession18. In Neptune and Amphitrite, by Cornelis van Haarlem, the Sea God holds up a Turbo Marmoratus shell showing one of its attributes the coloured mother of pearl inside19. Georgius Everardus Rumphius, (1627-1702) an early scientist and employee of the V.O.C., catalogued the Turbo Marmoratus shell in his work on the fauna of Amboyna in the Moluccas. Amboyna was site of the early head-quarters of the VOC and centre of the trade in nutmeg, pepper, cloves and mace. He published it in his book, the Ambonese curiosity cabinet (D’AmboinischeRaritkamer, Amsterdam, 1705, book II, Pl. 6) as Cochlea Major or in Dutch, Giant’s Ears and in Malay, Moon’s eye after the cap which fits in the large opening and protects the animal’s soft body. Rumphius, whose own shell collection is thought to have been requisitioned by a Medici prince, described how to remove the outer shell with vinegar or spoiled rice; how the flesh was a reserved delicacy of the Kings of Buton (a large island off the south east tip of Sulawesi); how the inner layer ‘is a beautiful mother of pearl, not white but showing all the colours of the rainbow’; and how the Japanese smash the mother of pearl and ‘put it on big Trunks or Cabinets in order to shape flowers and stars with them, for their black lacquer work, which renders it most handsome’.
(1) 1906-1953 Dutch duty mark for silver of unguaranteed fineness. In practice this mark was sometimes mistakenly used on old and foreign objects. See: Netherlands Responsibility marks since 1797, Holland Assay office, 1997, p. 48
(2) Mathieu da Vinha and Raphäel Masson, Versailles, Paris, 2015, footnote 31
(3) Ralph Beuing, Die Schatzkammer des Deutchen Ordens, Weimar 2015, no. 107, catalogued as Goa, first half of the 17th century; and Jan Veenendaal, op. cit. p. 128 catalogued as West Sumatra, Indonesia, circa 1700
(4) The Parisian goldsmith Jacques Lemire held the title ‘filigraneur du roi' for Louis XIV, (Micio op. cit. p. 70); in 1681 six filigree cabinets were shipped by the V.O.C. from the Dutch Republic to Batavia. (Asia in Amsterdam, op. cit. p. 335)
(5) Jet Pijzell-Domisse, `Filigree in the Hague in the seventeenth century’ from Silver Wonders from the East. op.cit. pp. 85-93
(6) Veenendaal op. cit. p. 132. The Goldsmiths of Padang, who were of Malay origin, travelled throughout Sumatra and worked in the required style. This might include strong Chinese ornament for a client in a centre such as Palembang where there was an important Chinese community.
(7) William Marsden F.R.S, The History of Sumatra, containing an account of the government, laws, customs and manners of the native inhabitants, with a description of the natural productions, and a relation of the ancient political state of that island. (London, 1783. p. 143-145)
(8) op cit. Marsden, preface p.iii
(9) Libby Lai-Pik Chan, The Silver Age: Origins and Trade of Chinese Export Silver, Hong Kong Maritime Museum, 25 February 2018, illus. 8 and Peter Gordon, Asian Review of Books, 22 January 2018
(10) Formerly in the Qing Court Collection and still in Beijing, illustrated in Zhongguo meishu fenlei quanji. Zhongguo jinyin boli falang qi quanji. Vol. 3. Jinyinqi [Gold and Silver] (3), Shijiazhuang, 2004, pl. 312’.
(11) The Kaverne collection box was sold Sothebys, Hong Kong, 5 October, 2016, lot 53; For the Imperial Qing Court gold box see: Exhibition catalogue, National Palace Museum, Taipei A Garland of Treasures: Masterpieces of Precious Crafts in the Museum Collection, 2014, cat. no. II-68. http://antiquities.npm.gov.tw/Utensils_Page.aspx?ItemId=628035
(12) Annabel Teh Gallop, ‘Gold silver and lapis lazuli, Royal letters from Aceh in the 17th century’, from Chapter VI of Mapping the Acehnese Past, R. Michael Feener and others ed.. Verhandelingne van het koninklijk institute voor taal-land-en volkenkunde, no. 268, Leiden, 2011, p. 120
(13) Pedro Dias, 'A Descoberta do Oriente, The Discovery of the Orient’, from NunoVassallo e Silva et al. A Herança de, The Heritage of Rauluchantim, Museu de Sâo Roque, Lisbon, 1996, p. 47
(14) Leonhard, op cit. p. 183
(15) Leonhard, op cit. p. 182
(16) L'Enseigne de Gersaint, 1720-21, (Charlottenburg Palace, Berlin)
(17) Leonard op. cit. p. 183
(18) P and N de Boer collection, Amsterdam
(19) P and N de Boer collection, Amsterdam
(20) The Grove encyclopaedia of Materials and Techniques in Art, Gerald Ward ed. Oxford, 2008, p. 381, quoted by Paul Micio op cit. p. 68
Sotheby's gratefully thank, Jan van Campen, Veronica Parry and Jan Veenendaal for their help with this lot.
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